Friday, April 7, 2017
A Man Must Examine Himself
While Roman Catholics claim that the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) is a sacrifice of Christ, with the elements actually turning into Jesus’ blood and body, those who follow what the Bible says understand that it is really a memorial with symbols reflecting the reality of the work of Christ in His one-time sacrifice for sin.
One passage in regards to “communion” is 1 Corinthians 11:28, which often raises questions as to its meaning, and that is the reason for this post, which is based on a study I did back in 2001 for a class.
In the context of 1 Cor. 11:23-29, in regards to the Lord's Supper, two questions arise:
What is the purpose of the Lord's Supper (otherwise known as Communion, the Lord's Table, Eucharist [thanksgiving] etc)?
For what must a man examine himself?
In order to answer the second question, we must know its context in relation to first question.
To determine the purpose of the Lord's Supper we merely have to see what Jesus said about it. In Luke 22:19 Jesus says to "do this in remembrance of me." Paul repeats this in 1 Cor. 11:23-26, and adds that "whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." In 1 Cor. 10:16-17 we have another aspect of the purpose and that is communion ("participation") in Christ's body and blood.
David A. Glock, of Emmaus Bible College has some good words to say in this matter. In his article The Centrality of The Lord's Supper in The Life of The Assembly (in the Emmaus Journal, Vol.1/No.1), Glock says,
Worship is distinct. It is primarily focused on God. The pattern of the Psalms establishes this concept. In the descriptive psalms of praise in the Psalter the attributes and character of God are the focus of praise. In the declarative psalms of praise His great deeds in creation and history inspire praise from His people. The person and work of God are the single focus of worship. Praise comes from contemplating Him and what He has done. In the New Testament worship finds its particular focus on the person and work of Christ.
This do in remembrance of me. I Cor.11:24
For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show the Lord's death till he comes. I Cor.11:26
The direction of worship is godward. It focuses on God, not the worshipper.
Glock continues further: The purpose of the worship meeting is unique. It is the hour of collective contemplation of God. Saint stimulates saints to higher and greater thoughts of God.
This, then, is the purpose: a time of praise and worship directed at God in remembrance of Christ's work, communion with him, and proclaiming his death until he comes.
So now we come to the second question: For what must a man examine himself? The context of verse 28 is established in verse 29 by the conjunction "for". Therefore, if we are to learn in what way a man is to examine himself, we must see what it is that verse 29 says. I will set this verse out in several English translations to better get the understanding:
King James Version: For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
English Standard Version: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
New American Standard: For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgement to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.
Revised English Bible: For he who eats and drinks eats and drinks judgement on himself if he does not discern the body.
Greek Interlinear: For the [one] eating and drinking judgement to himself eats and drinks not discerning the body.
J.N. Darby: For [the] eater and drinker eats and drinks judgement to himself, not distinguishing the body.
New King James Version: For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the body.
Holman Christian Standard Bible: For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
New International Version: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.
New English Translation: For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body, eats and drinks judgment against himself.
Amplified Version: For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ's] body, eats and drinks a sentence - a verdict of judgement - upon himself.
God Word To The Nations: Anyone who eats and drinks is eating and drinking a judgement against himself when he doesn't recognize the Lord's body.
Jewish New Testament: For a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.
New American Bible (also RSV): For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself.
New Living Translation: For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God's judgement upon yourself.
An American Translation (W.F. Beck): Anyone who eats and drinks without seeing that the body is there is condemned for his eating and drinking.
William Barclay: For he who eats and drinks as some of you do, eats and drinks judgment to himself, because he does not discern what the body means.
Today's English Version: For if he does not recognize the meaning of the Lord's body when he eats the bread and drinks from the cup, he brings judgement on himself when he eats and drinks.
Contemporary English Version: If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink.
So, for what does the Scripture say that a man should examine himself before partaking of the Lord's Supper? It is quite plain that a man should examine himself to see if he can rightly recognize, discern or judge something about the body. What body? His own? Christ's? The Church? The KJV, NKJV, ESV, NET, NAS, REB, JNT, Interlinear, Darby, NAB, RSV, Beck and Barclay all just say the "body", but the rest say the "body of Christ" or of "the Lord.”
First, remember our answer to the question as to purpose of the Lord's Supper. Then look at 11:17-22 where Paul is chastising them for their improper use of the Lord's Supper. It is within this context that Paul tells them that a man should examine himself before partaking. Does he discern what the Lord's Supper is about? If he does not, he is taking it unworthily. So, then, the body he is talking about is obviously the body of Christ, as the sense is given in the remaining translations.
It may be enlightening to see what the early church taught on this subject.
The Didache (c.80-140 A.D.), an early catechism, stated, “Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord.”
Justin Martyr (c. 160 A.D.) stated, “And this food is called among us the Eucharist. And no one is allowed to partake of it but the one who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is living as Christ has commanded.”
Here it appears that they considered a person unworthy if they were not baptized as a member of the Church, which would mean they must understand what the service was about. This would correlate well with the idea of self-examination to be able to recognize the significance of the service.
Another question relative to this is what is meant by the body of Christ? Many commentators have their own ideas here, and may shed light on this passage, but sometimes the particular doctrinal bent of the writer comes through. They often do not agree with each other, so that is why we use them only for reference, while the Bible is our final authority.
In the notes to the Catholic New American Bible, we find the following: 11.28: Examine himself: the Greek word is similar to that for "approved" in v.19, which means "having been tested and found true." The self-testing required for proper eating involves discerning the body (29), which, from the context, must mean understanding the sense of Jesus' death (26), perceiving the imperative to unity that follows from the fact that Jesus gives himself to all and requires us to repeat his sacrifice in the same spirit (18-25).
As you can see, they understand that it not examining oneself for unconfessed sin, etc. They see the "body" in context as that of Christ’s.
The NIV Study Bible: 11:28 examine himself. A person should test the attitude of his own heart and actions and his awareness of the significance of the Supper, thus making the Supper, under God, a spiritual means of grace. 11:29 without recognizing the body of the Lord. The word "body" may refer to either the Lord's physical body or the church as the body of Christ (see 12:13,27). The first view means that the person partakes of the Lord's Supper without recognizing that it symbolizes Christ's crucified body. But in that case, why is the blood not mentioned? The second view means that the participant is not aware of the nature of the church as the body of Christ, resulting in the self-centered actions of vv. 20-21.
Again, although there are two views of what "the body" means, the commentator makes it plain that we are not examining ourselves for our sins, but rather whether we recognize what the Lord's Supper represents.
Matthew Henry: “The Corinthians came to the Lord's table as to a common feast, not discerning the Lord's body - not making a difference or distinction between that and common food, but setting both on a level: nay, they used much more indecency at this sacred feast than they would have done at a civil one. This was very sinful in them, and very displeasing to God, and brought down his judgement on them: For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. Some were punished with sickness, and some with death. Note, A careless and irreverent receiving of the Lord's supper may bring temporal punishment.”
Henry's commentary is almost 300 years old, so at least it shows what the teaching was in his day.
The International Bible Commentary, with Paul W. Marsh as the author of the commentary on 1 Corinthians: 28. examine: i.e., let a man test himself. It calls for a minute scrutiny of the heart and motives to ascertain one's moral and spiritual condition before partaking. 29. without recognizing the body. the body is held by some commentators to refer to the church (see also Moffat and NEB). Others understand it in terms of the Lord's Supper as in v.27. Both interpretations make good sense. of the Lord, added in NIV, is not the Greek text. diakrinein (to discern or recognize) is rendered judged rightly, in v.31. It seems to carry this basic idea in v.29. One who judges rightly will distinguish, discriminate. Therefore, depending on the significance given to the body, one who participates without due self-examination does not distinguish between the Lord's Supper (the body) and an ordinary meal, or alternatively, does not discern the true character of the Body, the Church.
Again, the commentator does not see self-examination as including confessing sins, etc.
Finally, William Barclay's commentary: This passage goes on to talk about eating and drinking this bread and wine unworthily. The unworthiness consisted in the fact the man who did so did "not discern the Lord's body." That phrase can equally mean two things; and each is so real and so important that it is quite likely that both are intended.
(i) It may mean that the man who eats and drinks unworthily does not realize what the sacred symbols mean that he eats and drinks with no reverence and no sense of the love that these symbols stand for or the obligation that is laid upon him.
(ii) It may also mean this. The phrase the body of Christ again and again stands for the Church; it does so, as we shall see, in Chapter 12. Paul has just been rebuking those who with their divisions and their class distinctions divide the church; so this may mean that he eats and drinks unworthily who has never realized that the whole Church is the body of Christ but is at variance with his brother. Every man in whose heart there is hatred, bitterness, contempt against his brother, as he comes to the Table of our Lord, eats and drinks unworthily. So then to eat and drink unworthily is to do so while we are at variance with the brother for whom also Christ died.
Although Barclay has a good understanding of what the passage says, he does add that examining self for sins, etc., may be included.
The plain reading of the text, and the many evidences from early Christian teaching and reputable commentators, teach that the self-examination is indeed whether one recognizes the purpose of the Lord's Supper and all the doctrine behind it, including the proclaiming of the Lord's death. The purpose of the Lord's Supper is to remember Him and His work, and to proclaim his death. It is a memorial to Jesus and the focus is then directed at Him, with worship and praise to God the Father for the work of Christ. It is not a time of self-reflection. The focus is heaven-ward, not inward.
Should we examine ourselves for unconfessed sin and wrong-doing towards others? Most definitely, and this should be done on a continuous basis. William McDonald's commentary states: We should realize that the Lord's body was given in order that our sin might be put away. If we go on living in sin, while at the same time partaking of the Lord's Supper, we are living a lie.
In Matthew 5:23,24 Jesus tells us, "It you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." I think this makes a good analogy for self-examination of our sins BEFORE we even come together as an assembly for the Lord's supper, especially in light of William McDonald's comment, but this is not what 1 Cor. 11:28 is talking about in context, although the argument can be made that "recognizing" the Lord's body includes this aspect.
My conclusion is that the teaching that this verse means we are to examine ourselves primarily for sin seems to be tradition and not biblically-based.